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Vatican to investigate St. Benedict’s school and Ealing Abbey in London

October 26, 2011

St. Benedict’s school in London, which was founded in 1902, states that their institution is “more than a school”.  Children who enroll at St. Benedict’s are informed that “they will thrive and live in our nurturing environment”, and they can be assured of a “warm Benedictine welcome”.

St. Benedict’s has welcomed more than students to their institution recently.  This week the BBC reported that the Vatican, led by an investigative team from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, has launched an inquiry into child sex abuse at the school and the adjoining Ealing abbey.

The inquiry follows the conviction in 2009 of Father David Pearce, who once led the school, and who is now serving an eight year sentence after he was found to have abused five students in his care.  The Telegraph reports that Pearce was known as the “devil in a dog collar” and that he admitted to sexually assaulting students between 1972 and 2007.

At Pearce’s sentencing Judge Andrew McDowall informed him that “at some later stage, a higher court than this will be deciding the exact balance to be put upon your conduct”.

Ealing Abbey is currently home to monks who have been accused of sexual abuse.  The former Abbot of Ealing Abbey, Father Laurence Soper, was arrested on charges that he sexually abused children when he taught at St. Benedict’s, and was later released on bail.  He was summoned to appear at a London police station to discuss the charges in March.  Soper failed to turn himself in to authorities and now a European Arrest Warrant may be issued.  He was last known to be living in a monastery in Rome.

The current abbot of Ealing Abbey, Abbot Martin Shipperlee, released a statement on the abbey’s website concerning Soper’s disappearance in which he states “early in March he left the monastery in Rome where he had been living to travel to London for an appointment with the police.  Unfortunately he failed to keep that appointment and we have heard nothing from him since and all efforts to contact him have been without success.  On previous occasions he had returned by arrangement to meet with the police and he was trusted to do so”.

The Guardian reports that survivor advocates in Britain are skeptical of the effectiveness of an internal church investigation.  Pete Saunders who is Chief Executive of the advocacy group The National Association of People Abused in Childhood described the inquiry as a public relations stunt similar to “putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank”.  Anne Lawrence who is co-chair of the group Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, called the investigation a beginning, but that she is aware of abuse at over 20 schools and “we would like to see inquiries into all of them”.

The survivors in Britain are right to be skeptical; experience has shown that investigations into child sexual assault in Catholic institutions must be independent if they are to have any real value.  Whether it is uncovering sexual violence in the archdiocese of Philadelphia in the United States, or in the diocese of Cloyne Ireland, the most accurate accounting of criminal activity inside of Catholic schools and dioceses must be conducted by an outside authority who is given the legal means necessary to conduct a comprehensive examination of the records and evidence.  Our children’s safety and well being depend on it.

While they are investigating reports of sexual assault at St. Benedict’s the Vatican should also inform Father Laurence Soper that he is to cease living the life of a fugitive and immediately turn himself in to law enforcement officials in London.

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